Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Herbs Take the Cake

Colorful, flavorful herbs are the icing on tomato pie. Unlike icing, though, I used to treat them as an afterthought. They were something I threw in at the last minute, while trying to pull dinner together for my seemingly half-starved family (not!).

This summer, we went whole hog with herbs and vegetables in a little raised bed area beneath the kitchen window. I was unprepared for the abundance of tarragon, oregano, eggplant, okra and peppers we have this year. It's a banner year for things that refused to grow last summer, most likely due to even watering and improved soil.

Tarragon grows like a weed beneath clematis and climbing rose, but it hides the rose's gangly legs.  Just a few sprigs of tarragon send a spicy, floral perfume through the kitchen, erasing any concern about its appearance. We love it chopped into salad, or mixed with olive oil and garlic for a grilled chicken marinade. I also make pesto using tarragon, pine nuts, garlic, and parmesan. Tarragon is far less finicky than basil, which always seems to succumb to downy mildew before I can harvest it.  

Tarragon isn't the only shining star in the herb garden. Tiny white oregano blossoms fall over the wall of our raised bed, a sweet surprise among the peppers. 

Creeping thyme, with its pretty pink flowers in spring and heavenly summer scent, perseveres between stepping stones. It's also a staple in just about any preparation of chicken, fish, or tomato sauce. 

Cilantro wilts in summer's heat, but I harvest its hard little seeds, also known as coriander.  

Colorful sage comes in many varieties. Our lemon variety is delightful sauteed in butter and lemon and drizzled over trout. 

Rosemary is a favorite ingredient in fresh bread. I also chop it into mash potatoes, with a little mustard seed, olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper. Rosemary will over-winter, with some vigilance in more severe zone 7 temperatures. 

My all-time favorite is lavender. It's best used in fresh bread, and under Juniorette's pillow for sweet dreams. Throw it in the dryer for a sweet load of laundry.

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